University in violation of fire code as students flock to physics prof Devika Chithrani’s section

The chair of Ryerson’s physics department threatened to cancel a required first-year engineering class in January as students piled into the preferred lecturer’s section.

Chair Ana Pejovic-Milic had to send an email last month to all students enrolled in the course, PCS 125: Physics Waves and Fields, and said the overcrowding of the course section taught by professor Devika Chithrani violates fire codes.

In the first two weeks of the semester about 100 students enrolled in other sections showed up to Chithrani’s lecture, in the Cineplex theatre complex at Dundas Square. That left about 80 students without seats and some of them took to the aisles.

Students don’t want to go on the record fearing repercussions in their grades, but on rate my professor Chitarani has an A+ with ratings from 29 students. Students like her style.

I had to attend a different lecture. I couldn’t get into my own class - student

Mariam Nouser, a mechanical engineering student in Chithrani’s class, said the overcrowding was so bad at a Jan. 14 lecture that the lecture was paused until additional students left.

“I got to my class six minutes after (the start time), and there wasn’t even a single seat available,” Nouser said. “People were standing and even sitting on the stairway.”

In the first two weeks of classes, students overcrowded a physics class in the Cineplex theatre complex at Yonge and Dundas Streets, violating fire codes. This photo was taken Jan. 21, 2014. (Sameera Raja / Ryersonian Staff)

In the first two weeks of classes, students overcrowded a physics class in the Cineplex theatre complex at Yonge and Dundas Streets, violating fire codes. This photo was taken Jan. 21, 2014. (Sameera Raja / Ryersonian Staff)

Physics chair Pejovic-Milic said student movement between sections isn’t entirely new but increased acceptance rates this academic year has made it obvious. “Students can’t float between instructors’ lectures as they could before without consequence, when rooms would be 10 to 15 per cent empty, she said. “

The physics class also has a prerequisite and is planned with the assumption that a certain number of students would fail that one.

Instructors teaching other sections expressed concerns to the chair because the fire code mandates that there cannot be more students than available seats in a classroom. They’re crowding the stairways and blocking exits.

“It’s against the rules,” she says. “Faculty is asking them not to do that.”

While they’re being used for classes, the Cineplex theatres are the university’s responsibility. Ryerson Security says the overcrowding puts them in violation of the Ontario Fire Protection and Prevention Act. “You’re not supposed to block any exits or anybody’s pathway to an exit, in case of an evacuation,” a security representative said.

Pejovic-Milic said after visiting one lecture that students have adhered to her warning. However, while the class is no longer overcrowded, many students in Chithrani’s section are still unable to find seats.

“I wasn’t in class when the chair came in, because I couldn’t find a seat. After the chair spoke, I thought people would leave, but they didn’t,” said a student who didn’t want to reveal her name.

“So I had to attend a different lecture. I couldn’t get into my own class.” Currently,  students say that seats in Chithrani’s class are being taken on a first-come first-serve basis, forcing those assigned to her section to go elsewhere.

Chithrani distributes an attendance sheet but the student said she thinks many students pretend to sign their names. Chithrani declined an interview and said she would not comment on the whole matter.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of room in the other sections.

Apart from the fire-code violation, nothing in academic policy addresses the issue of “students in a multi-session course migrating to one particular instructor’s session,” said Christopher Evans, Ryerson’s vice-provost academic.

 

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